Internet, a modern – bazaar (PE nr. 1081)

Philippe Docq, M.Afr.

A short time ago, I posted a little video on YouTube which was produced by a confrere. I was quickly informed by the YouTube platform that the video contained audio material (music) protected by copyright. Consequently, in most countries, some advertising would have to be included in the video so as to compensate for the royalties due, while in countries where breaches of copyright were treated more severely, the video would simply not be available on YouTube. I was very impressed by the hi-tech used to detect the music illegally used in this video. At the same time, I was angry, even frustrated like an adolescent caught doing wrong when he was so sure of himself.

It is true that when one posts something on YouTube, the strictly private circle is left behind. One shows the world a work that one is very proud to proclaim as “ours” even when one has used a lot of material that does not belong to us, such as soundtracks, sometimes photos, even video clips. In the academic world, as modern day students know too well, this is called “plagiarism” and is subject to severe sanctions often without a right of appeal. The student is reproached because he pretends to have a proficiency which he does not have. If the vast world of the Internet and good word-processing software allow the student to produce, by bluffing, an amazing academic work, it also allows everyone to more or less become an artist by compiling works or pieces of work that do not belong to them. All of us have probably done this when we have prepared a circular letter or a liturgical leaflet. Today, the blogs and social networks that we use often need a photo or picture to illustrate or clarify what is on our minds except that it is probably completely illegal unless it belongs to us! The Internet is technology which exposes all, offers all, put everything at one’s fingertips yet this “virtual” content is the fruit of the intelligence, competence and expertise of people who are often dependent on it to make a living or even just to survive. When I was a child, my parents told me not to take anything that belonged to somebody else. However, in today’s world, as ownership is “virtual”, we often think that it is available to all, that it can be acquired without doing any harm to anybody else because it can be used time and again. This means that when it comes to protecting artistic content and authors, the Law is tentative because it is a big challenge and a relatively new one. In France and in most other western countries, a law exists which aims to protect intellectual property. This means that, in France for example, to use your blog for an illegally downloaded picture on the Internet could cost you up to €300,000 euro in fines and two years of imprisonment. “Dura Lex, sed lex!”, meaning “the Law is harsh but it is the Law!” So, what do we have to say of the many pieces of music, films and videos that we share among ourselves with our USB devices? Would we steal a CD or a DVD in a music or video shop? Of course not! However, we do so repeatedly in the secret of our rooms by using an anonymous internet connection. Who are we to judge the immoral quality of publishing houses in order to justify our greed to possess everything without spending anything?

If states are looking for legal solutions, the artists and publishing houses are proposing commercial solutions. Numerous internet sites allow the downloading of images against payment offering licences more or less easy to understand. Others propose package deals for unlimited access to the vast repertoire of music and videos through “streaming”. Obviously, this means access to a reliable internet connection!

When I was a stagiaire in Tanzania, a long time ago, a big game among the pupils of the primary school was to have between their fingers, at the right moment, a pencil which allowed them to avoid the punishment of those who could not produce homework because they did not have a basic tool such as a pencil. Nowadays, the basic tool is a computer. “O tempora, o mores!” (O times, o customs!). If a pencil was inaccessible to the vast majority of the children in the village where I did my stage, the software which facilitates our computers to produce effective work and which really help us are often incompatible with “our simple lifestyle”. A modest licence for Windows 10 costs between €130 and €250. A licence for Office Professional will set you back €450. I do not mention the very sophisticated software used in exegesis for example or the licence to edit graphics, photos and videos. These types of software are very expensive because they are high performing and also because they are on sale commercially. They are supposed to pay their developers and producers. We could be excused if we did not have other alternatives.

However, alternatives do exist! The “Windows” application with which we are all familiar can be easily replaced by another system “Linux” which will not cost you a penny and will give you the same or higher level of security than its greedy rival. “Microsoft Office” can be effectively substituted by “LibreOffice” and the photo editing software “The Gimp” can hold its own in comparison with its cousin “Photoshop.” Much more could be said about the differences between these two software platforms, three if one adds the “Apple” application and on the differences between proprietary or licensed software and free software. However, that is the subject of another article because space is limited.

When we preach on Sunday morning, we proclaim that the truth will set us free. And we like to believe that. Coming into the light and out of darkness and being transparent in the means we use to communicate and entertain will make us freer and, above all, more credible in the eyes of our Christians, especially among young people who observe us and understand what we are doing.

“To God the Glory, eternally”

Philippe Docq, M.Afr.

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